The Ulster Farmers’ Union says comments made by the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Theresa Villers, and Secretary of State for Exiting the EU Steve Barclay, undervalues the importance of live exports to the farming sector in Northern Ireland and highlights a lack of agricultural knowledge.
The government officials expressed their intentions to stop the live export of sheep and restrict transport journeys by requiring farmers to sell stock to local abattoirs post-Brexit.
The UFU and NSA (National Sheep Association), have written a joint letter to Theresa Villers outlining their concerns.
UFU deputy president, David Brown said, “Live exports are an integral part of Northern Ireland’s livestock sector and any additional controls or changes to regulations, post-Brexit, are unnecessary.”
“More than 500,000 sheep per annum cross the Irish border for processing in the Republic of Ireland and it is crucial that this trade can continue without any friction.”
“Government officials are making these claims, but I would question if they really understand how our livestock industry operates in the UK.”
He says he welcomes a meeting with them to discuss just how valuable live exports are to family-run farming businesses in Northern Ireland.
He believes that the Cabinet Ministers have “wrongly linked live exports to animal welfare”. “We are very concerned about the language Government officials are using on this subject.”
“They have claimed that banning live exports will improve animal welfare, but that is not the case. Again, it comes down to a lack of understanding.”
'Not a welfare issue'
He outlined that transporting livestock is not a welfare issue and by making this assumption, they are generating negative press which calls into question animal welfare in the UK, when in reality, we have some of the highest animal welfare standards in the world” said the deputy president.
NSA chief executive Phil Stocker, commented, “We recognise that our departure from the EU will lead to changes for farmers, particularly in areas of trade and future farm support.”
“But it is highly concerning that our own Secretary of State for Environment Food and Rural Affairs is proposing radical restrictions on trade that would further reduce market options and farm gate prices at a time when everyone is already predicting volatility and uncertainty.”
'A serious lack of understanding'
He believes that to suggest that farmers would have to sell livestock to their nearest abattoir, and that they should abandon market access to Europe when demand clearly exists, either shows a “serious lack” of understanding of how competitive markets function, or suggests a change in policy direction that hasn’t been discussed or catered for. “There are far more intelligent ways to ensure good welfare outcomes, and measures that are likely to drive prices down are not one of them.”
In May 2018, the UFU responded to the UK Government call for evidence on live exports and gave oral evidence to the FAWC (Farm Animal Welfare Committee), in October 2018.
The UFU is “concerned” that FAWC has given a report to Government but they have “not discussed this or their recommendations with industry”.